There might have been a time where it was enough for children to play with toys like dolls and building blocks that just sat there and required both imagination and initiative in order for them to actually do anything. The landscape is much different now though, with parents looking at gift guides that tell them at which age they should get their kids tablets, and research from Lookout revealing that 22 percent of parents believe that kids at age 10 are old enough for their first phone. There is little doubt that kids want the same level of interactivity and responsiveness as the technology they see adults playing with, with iPads already being readily adopted by kids.
While iPads and other tablets might be at the top of kids’ wishlists this holiday season, thanks to increasing opportunities to crowdfund ideas on sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo a handful of startups are out to make sure that kids have a wider variety of interactive toys under the tree this year. With toddlers equipped with their parent’s smartphones and tablets, these startups not only want to turn them into toys, but create new context around how they’re used by with integrated software and apps that enable kids to control and create using real-world objects.
One such startup, ATOMS Express Toys, whose CEO Michael Rosenblatt was the lead Apple designer on the first iPod Touch, recently reached their Kickstarter funding goal of $100,000. The company builds a number of LEGO-like brick modules that range from a battery brick, accelerometer, and exploding bricks kids can use to transform their existing toys into playthings that blow up, make sounds, light up, and become mobile from an iOS device thanks to an iOS control brick.
“We started ATOMS to help people make things that do things, and really targeting the market of people who don’t have experience with electronics or programming but have things they want to make,” said Rosenblatt in an interview. “For a kid if they want to build something they can use LEGO or if they want to do arts and crafts they can go to an art store…but if they want to make something that actually does something there’s not much they can start with unless their parents have a technical background.”
Another startup is looking to spearhead the personal robot revolution by letting kids (and adults) transform an iOS device into a pet robot. Romotive’s Romo weights one pound and comes equipped with two-way telepresence, computer vision, facial recognition, and autonomous navigation, and transforms iOS devices through the company’s software and app into an interactive, personal, and responsive robot. The company successfully funded its second Kickstarter campaign for an updated design and software development kit (SDK) for Romo, which can be controlled from another iOS device from anywhere resulting in things like grandparents remotely playing hide-and-seek with their grandkids, or through its ‘pet presence’ allowing adults to play with their pets while at work.
However, toys complimenting smartphones and tablets don’t need to be overly technical either, especially with startups like YogiPlay creating a network of apps built for children to ensure they have plenty to do with the devices alone. To make the tools look more kid-friendly and account for any rough play with the costly devices NYC-based Seebo has created its own line of interactive smartphone and tablet protectors called Wise Pets, which look like the stuffed toys. Parents download an app and slip their connected device into what becomes the mouthpiece for the stuffed toys, which each come with a unique persona.
In a similar vein, entertainment and education need not be the only end goals, as demonstrated by Sproutel, a startup BetaKit covered this past summer that builds interactive toys to help kids deal with chronic illnesses. The first toy is Jerry the Bear, which comes fully equipped with embedded hardware, AI, and accompanying software to help children with Type 1 diabetes better understand and manage their conditions. The company is also in the works of creating additional products that will tackle other illnesses like asthma and obesity. “We want to incorporate all of the things that are critical to driving engagement long enough so that the real learning around self-care and diabetes happens,” said co-founder Aaron Horowitz in an earlier interview with BetaKit.
With iPads, iPhones, and iPods being the top three wishlist choices this year for kids aged six and older based on a survey by Neilson, parents can be sure that an entire ecosystem will start developing around the increasingly digitally connected child. As parents give tablets and other devices as toys, they would also be wise to be vigilant in monitoring their usage both for content and time, something startups like PeekTab are also looking to help with. With the days of the static, unconnected toys numbered, kids are increasingly demanding access to a new wave of interactive toys, and manufacturers and startups alike will likely be happy to provide them.